Old fabric, new clothes

Esther's dresses



It’s hard to pinpoint where my love for vintage textiles began.

When I began to realise that high street brands tend to take a rather ‘one size fits all' approach to clothes, I knew that I wanted something different for my wardrobe. Not only is there very little standardisation between brands, but there is almost nothing available if you don’t fit a rigid pattern of proportions, which I don’t. This led me to taking dressmaking and pattern cutting classes, so that I could tailor my vintage dress finds to better fit me, and so that I could make my own clothes.

I have sometimes bought a specific bolt of fabric for a project, but just like finding a vintage dress, it’s much more exciting to use some vintage fabric found in a charity shop, vintage fair, passed on from a friend or via a website like TrashNothing. I’m happy to create a garment from a tablecloth, a duvet cover or some curtains. Never underestimate what someone might find useful - that old table runner that is sitting at home in a drawer may be the perfect match for someone’s tastes. And of course, all the scraps get saved for patchwork and smaller projects.

I have been very privileged to be given stashes of fabric and haberdashery saved by relatives of friends and family. They’ve been passed to me to make use of and bring life to, and I recognise the importance the items have – some hold very special memories for those who passed them to me, and I feel very lucky to be a part of that.

There’s something magical about using something you know was also important or beautiful to someone in the past. For example, I have a collection of beautiful vintage beads that belonged to my mother-in-law’s mother (also a dressmaker) and I really cherish each bead I use.

beads and buttons

As word spread about my sewing and friends complimented my outfits, I started getting asked to mend and produce things for friends and family members. It really pleases me to be able to extend the life of someone’s clothes or create something from fabric that might have just been thrown away. After all, the average piece of clothing bought in the UK is now worn only 10 times and we throw around 1.2 million tonnes of textile waste into landfill annually. Much of this is sent to countries that aren’t equipped to deal with it.

Textiles read for a new life

My most recent projects have been inspired by my sister’s band Moulettes. Hannah, who fronts the band is also a great fan of vintage clothing and she recently asked me to make a fabric banner to use during gigs at Smuggler’s Festival. I was inspired both by Hannah’s own collage artwork for the band and by the vintage fabrics used to make political banners for protests.

Esther at Smugglers Festival

I love the work of Alice Gabb, whose protest banners are real artworks. The wording on my banner promotes the band, but it is also an act of protest against over-consumerism and exploitation. Moulettes celebrate the wonders of the environment in their work, Preternatural, and explore the themes of communication in their most recent project Xenolalia, so it feels like the perfect collaboration.

Antler's illustrations can be found at Antler Wilding

Have you got fabric or vintage items such as duvet sets sitting in a cupboard unused? You never know what someone else might be inspired to make from them, so dig it out and pass it on!

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Finding sheet music and more with TrashNothing

Farrenc Trio in Dalston


‘Musician after sheet music, furniture and new connections after a move during the pandemic’

Perhaps that’s closer to a Tinder bio than a TrashNothing request. You’ll be pleased to know I decided to just scroll through the TrashNothing app rather than posting a request sounding so desperate. But yes, I’m still single.

I’d decided to download the TrashNothing app ‘just in case there’s actually anything good on there.’ In fact, I was sceptical as to whether it was only going to be offers of half-full jam jars. But I was very pleasantly surprised!

Daniel and I met over TrashNothing after connecting through the app from a listing of his, which offered some great items including the infamous ‘leaning tower of Pisa’ wicker basket which he has written about here.

What separates TrashNothing from the likes of Ebay is the community feel; people wanting to give their things a second life with their neighbours seems to come hand in hand with a more optimistic outlook on life. And with generosity comes gratitude, for me anyways.

Dan and I became good friends and have been planning events together in celebration of freecycling and community. Daniel offered me heaps of sheet music that would have otherwise gone to waste. As a professional musician, when I find piles of sheet music, I’m immediately in kid-in-a-candy-store mode.

Some of Daniel's sheet music

I have found some utterly fantastic composers that I otherwise would never have come across. This has actually lead to me creating some specific programmes to celebrate the Jewish Community in North London, featuring many pieces from the music collection Daniel was offering.

As the cost of living continues to rise, if people have things to offer or you have things to give away, I really encourage you to do so through the TrashNothing app. You’ll be surprised what can happen through a simple community exchange.

Farrenc Trio

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Someone, somewhere wants it...

Daniel's wonky wicker basket


For me, Trashnothing really took off when I gave away a wonky wicker basket. I’d stupidly crushed it against a wall and it now had a weird, permanent 17-degree slant.

Too wonky to sell, too good to throw away. Surely no one would want it, I thought. But the idea of this going to landfill was too much. Fairly new to Trashnothing, I created a post, with a nice photo (important) and an explanation of the reason for the odd slant. Within a day, I’d had four messages. People loved my ‘leaning tower of Pisa.’

The wonky wicker basket, and a variety of things I given away since on Trashnothing, has taught me a valuable lesson: whatever you don’t need, someone somewhere will be able to use.

Raymond, a musician, came and collected the basket. I was so impressed with the result that I posted a story about it on Facebook, as a way to let more people know about Trashnothing. The post clearly struck a chord: lots of likes and comments.

Since then, Raymond has collected sheet music and a huge rice cooker that I was no longer using. We’ve struck up a friendship and he’s come to parties that I’ve had. We are now planning to create some musical events together.

Raymond, Daniel and the rice cooker

Of course, this story is just one of hundreds created every day, as people donate items via Trashnothing. There’s a stories page on the Trashnothing website where you can share your own stories of what you’ve given or been given, and what’s resulted from it. This is great for inspiring others — whether the gifts are wonky or not!

Photos by Daniel Elkan

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Pick-up tips

Freegle people picking up items


So, you’ve have posted an item on TrashNothing and someone wants it. What’s the best way to arrange the pick up of the item? Here are some thoughts.

Where to meet

If you are giving away items, you get to choose where the pick-up takes place. Options include.

  • The person collecting comes to your home
  • You leave the items out in a safe place, such as somewhere in your front garden or side passage of your house.
  • You meet in a public place
  • You deliver the items (if the person collection happens to live or work on your way somewhere)

Arranging the pick up

In my experience, I’ve found that I often prefer to arrange the pick up by phone. Sometimes finding a mutually convenient time can be much easier when on a call, which is interactive, than back and forth by email or text. It’s nice to talk to the person that you are donating to (or collecting from), in advance. It builds trust – and having each other’s phone numbers is useful if plans change. And, personally, if I’m telling someone my home address for collection, I like to have a phone number for them.

In some cases, being flexible in terms of timing can give someone the chance to come by when they are passing, rather than coming specially. If you are doing this, which might mean hanging onto the item for a few days longer, it helps to get the other person to commit to a date that they’ll take it by.

No shows

Have you ever experienced a no show? Out of the 142 items that I’ve given away on TrashNothing, there were only one no show – a tiny proportion. If someone misses the arranged pick up and doesn’t let you know, it’s up to you as to whether you give them a second chance or not. It probably depends on what reason they give you. Really, if someone can’t make it, they should find a way to let you know in advance so that you don’t waste time waiting or end up still with an item that you wanted to give away. With most items on TrashNothing, you’ll have several people asking, so you can always explain politely – after a no show – that you need to give a different person the opportunity now.

If you're offering an item and someone misses the arranged pickup, it's up to you how to handle it. Most people give the person a 2nd chance within a day or two before offering the item to the next person in line. You can also leave feedback on the person.

It's always a good idea to collect a few replies to your offer before marking your offer as gifted. This makes it easier to give away your item without having to repost.

Photo by Alex Bamford

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